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 Tomato Girl_crop_9x7_150

I never think of myself as a Daddy’s girl, because I get along with Mom better. But there I am in plain daylight grinning as I ride the tractor with Daddy. We’re cultivating the 9 acres of land in Bainbridge for the next tomato crop. I stand on the tractor’s floor board with the evenly spaced holes for draining mud and moisture. Hanging onto the back of the tractor seat, we climb a grade — putt-putt-putt-putt-putt — and then back on level ground, mom snaps our picture. It’s a warm day in May, and I see beads of sweat on Daddy’s neck even though there’s a slight breeze blowing.

Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge

Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge

Daddy wears many hats in his farm supply business. He mans the parts department, hires mechanics, markets his equipment, and when a new tractor, harvester, or cultivator arrives, he walks across the street in Rheems to the railroad tracks at the appointed time and pulls a new tractor from a PA Railroad freight car that stops for just minutes to make the delivery.

He is so proud of his new tractor. Either he has ordered it for a farmer from the Minneapolis Moline plant, or he has someone in mind to sell it to. I hear him on the phone now with a prospect: “Hello, this is Longenecker from Rheems . . . .“ Everyone in northern Lancaster County knows him, so he doesn’t have to say “Longenecker Farm Supply” or explain who he is.

Sister Jean and I admiring the new Minneapolis Moline tractor with Daddy

Sister Jean and I admiring the new Minneapolis Moline tractor with Daddy

If there are Urban Mamas in Lancaster city, we don’t know about them. Everyone we know eats fresh and local from farms or country gardens. Cherries in May, peas in June, and sweet corn and tomatoes all summer long. In pea season, we gather around the kitchen table and eat a light supper of peas from the garden in a huge bowl. The china serving bowl I see now has embossed pink flowers and gilt edging. Of course, Mom pours lightly browned butter on top. “Butter always makes it better,” she says. After our fill of peas, peas, peas, there might be Breyer’s butter brickle ice cream and pretzels.

And sometimes, tomato sandwiches. Now, you ask, why would you eat tomato sandwiches when you were in the tomato patch all summer? Wouldn’t you be sick and tired of them? Well, not the way Mother fixes them:

TomatoOnVine

How to make the Perfect Tomato Sandwich, according to Mother Longenecker:

  • 2 slices of bread
  • Spread one side of each with mayonnaise, always Hellman’s
  • Layer medium-sliced, fresh tomatoes from the field (none of this harvest-green and then spray-with-preservatives business from the grocery store.)
  • Sprinkle some sugar on top of the tomatoes—and there you are!

TomSandYellow

If  you are counting calories and watching your waistline, this is not your dish. But try it just this once. It’s kind of sloppy: bright red tomato juice oozes out and puddles your plate, nourishing your senses and soul.

. . . at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

excerpt from “Ode to Tomatoes,” Pablo Neruda

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